Sunday, August 1, 2010

Threshing the Sweet Peas

Here I have caught Wayne in another of his myriad of duties around the farm...of course, this is a self constructed project as farming priorities tend to be. You must pick and choose your battle amongst a never-ending list of options that call at you non-stop throughout a day, everyday. We decided to save the seeds of that bumper crop of sweet pea flowers many of you may recall this early summer. The pleasure of the sweet bundles of flowers pairs so nicely with the spring flush of strawberries. We hope to do that again next season and saving this year's seeds is the first step towards that goal.

Tierra Vegetables is the proud owner of a seed separating device, or Thresher, an investment that became rational as a result of the many dry bean and experimental grain crops that are employed on the farm these days (did you know Wayne has a dream of one day expanding the grain production to service a grain CSA?). If you would like to read on about threshing techniques, equipment and seed/grain processing follow this link or Google more about the process for yourself. This image captures one of two very expensive seed plates we have for this thresher. Although not ideally suited to the size of a sweet pea seed, it would have to do the job as it is all we had.

Here are those little round pea seeds that I diligently begin planting in fall and continue to ensure they make it through pests and frosts throughout the spring. What a wonderful spring of sweet peas we had on the farm this season and I can honestly admit I am quite tired of cutting tiny sweet peas flowers this year. Maybe it is time to rest up for next season now. So this is how the plants are removed from the field once gone to seed. They have been left to dry on a tarp for a week or two prior to processing in the thresher so that they dry up nicely to remove the plant material from the seed. I could slowly and diligently remove seed after seed from the dried up pods with my hands, the quiet and meditative form of seed saving. Alternatively, since Wayne already has this nice mechanical piece of equipment, specifically suited to these purposes, we may as well give mechanical efficiency a chance.

The first of the three steps the plant material goes through, I have forgotten the name of this portion of the machine, but this is where you insert the plant material for crushing/grinding. It then passes through a screen in the inner depths of the machine where my camera does not easily see and then passes either out the back as trash material or falls down a chute into our tub as seed material. Voila! Pounds and pounds of sweet pea seeds saved for future generations of floral pleasure and therefore no need to go buying more down the road. Seed saving is so appropriate to the continuous grower if you have time, space and resources to be doing so. Tierra has also grown out a seed crop of the Early Red Burger onion this season, a good seed crop to invest energy into as onion seeds to do last long and must be purchased annually if not saved.

Here is the trash material going out the back of the machine. Once upon a time, pre-mechanical processing, Tierra staff and friends gathered to stomp and process beans by hand and foot. Changes and choices like these are options that can make a difference in the efficiencies and affordability of particular processes and crops around a small farm. It is really worth no one's time in the long run to be processing grain crops by hand, unless we were going to charge an arm and a leg for them and then you would never buy them. The reality is that the mechanical approach is really the only way to make any sense of the greater picture, unless you are a small home grower who has the time to spend and finds pleasure in the process.

This is what results look like as the seeds began to filter their way to the tub. We filled a good quarter of this tub on Saturday afternoon, plenty of seed for the farm next season and my own personal personal trials as I seed sweet peas around my own home and garden spaces.

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